Thursday, September 04, 2008

Art is in the eye of the Stakeholder

Tony Trehy, who curated the excellent Text festival at Bury Art Gallery, makes a very valid point about the problems of curation in our public galleries, particularly bemoaning Manchester Art Gallery's current, and popular exhibition of Lauren Child. He makes the point that Manchester can't ever be seen to be a world class city unless it has a world class gallery. It's certainly true that Manchester - despite being a hotbed of the visual arts - is always going to find it difficult to compete, not just with London, but with Liverpool and even parts of Yorkshire. The city art gallery suffers from being a civic amenity, which although it makes for a well-used space, with a "lovely cafe", has quite a schizophrenia when it comes to the shows it puts on. I suppose, that in the wider scheme of things, as one of the few sizeable public viewing spaces in the city centre, it has to double up as Manchester's V&A, it's Walker, it's Tate Modern. Remember, the popular, and utterly risible Kylie show came here from the V&A, a space that can get away with murder in the name of "design." I was disappointed in the Klimt exhibition at Liverpool Tate, because of it being too much about design and not enough about art, and I think this is more at the heart of the problem than anything else. Where else would you have put the Kylie-fest on, for instance? I rarely visit the gallery myself, at least partly because of these reasons, but also because of its very local authority opening hours. Its an absurdity that it closes at 5.00 each evening. In many ways, Manchester Art Gallery's primary function is not the travelling shows, but the permanent collection and the glorious building. I don't believe every town, every city can be a "centre of excellence" in everything, and with the Tate, the Walker and the Biennial, we should perhaps admit that Liverpool is the NW's centre of visual arts, with Manchester having other strengths, such as in literature and music.

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